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China Ordains New Bishop For Beijing With Unofficial Vatican Approval


China's state-controlled Catholic Church has installed a new bishop of Beijing. The appointment of Joseph Li Shan was made with the tacit approval of the Vatican. VOA's Naomi Martig reports from Hong Kong.

During the ceremony at Beijing's 400-year-old Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception Friday, Father Joseph Li Shan took a traditional oath of service to the church, along with a vow to respect Chinese government authority.

The Roman Catholic Church maintains that only the pope can appoint bishops. Beijing and the Vatican do not have formal diplomatic relations, however, and the Chinese have refused to allow the Vatican to name church officials.

But Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican secretary of state, publicly approved of Li's appointment when it was announced in July. The Reverend Sun Shangen, the former acting Bishop of Beijing, says the Vatican gave tacit approval for the ordination.

Sun says the Holy See unofficially approved Li's appointment. He says any official approval will have to wait until the Vatican and China normalize relations.

The agreement between Beijing and the Vatican over Li's appointment comes as Pope Benedict XVI is seeking closer ties with the officially atheist government. But the Vatican wants Beijing to follow international custom, which allows the Holy See to choose bishops.

Beijing is wary of allowing it citizens to pledge allegiance to any foreign power. It says the Vatican must sever its diplomatic ties with the government of Taiwan before it can normalize relations with the mainland.

Liu Bainian is vice chairman of the Chinese Patriotic Association, the country's state-sanctioned Catholic organization. He says the oath to the government that Bishop Li took at his swearing in shows that Catholic bishops in China are faithful to the laws of China.

"During our ordination ceremony, we need to take a vow to the people of China, that we are going to abide by the constitution, be patriotic citizens and to love our people," he said.

China's Catholics are divided. There is the state-controlled church, which the government says has four million members. There is also an underground church that recognizes the authority of the pope, and is thought to number several million.

Chinese loyal to the pope practice their faith in secret churches, and are subject to official persecution if they are discovered.

Hundreds of priests, nuns, officials and ordinary Chinese Catholics attended Friday's ceremony, although foreign reporters were excluded from the event. Li replaces Bishop Fu Tieshan, who died in April.